NEW YORK (Reuters) - Drivers entering the most congested part of Manhattan would have to pay a charge to help fund repairs to New York City’s deteriorating subway system under a plan announced on Tuesday by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
If the plan is adopted, New York may become the first major U.S. city to follow the lead of London, which began levying a congestion charge on vehicles driving into the city center in 2003, and a handful of other international cities.
Cuomo has long favored the new toll to generate revenue for an aging subway system that has been plagued by delays and closures. The mayor, who had favored raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers rather than congestion pricing, said he was dropping his opposition.
“I still believe a millionaires tax provides the best, most sustainable revenue source for the transit improvements our city needs,” de Blasio said in a statement. “But the time to act is running out, and among all alternatives, congestion pricing has the greatest prospects for immediate success.”
Under the plan, which requires approval from the state legislature, most people who drive into Manhattan below 61st Street, or roughly everywhere south of Central Park, will have to pay a toll. The toll amounts are to be set by the end of the year.
“It’s a luxury to drive into Manhattan,” Cuomo said in a radio interview with WNYC on Tuesday, noting that most vehicles filling Manhattan each day drove in from another state.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio have said the city’s subway system, one of the world’s busiest, is in a crisis as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that runs the system, struggles to find funding to fix aging infrastructure.
About a third of trains run late. Decades-old signals require large gaps between trains, leading to commuters struggling to squeeze into crowded railway cars at rush hour.
The MTA estimates that it needs between $41 billion and $60 billion to pay for improvements and repairs under its next five-year capital plan that begins next year, on top of its roughly $17 billion annual operating budget.
A working group created by the state legislature last year recommended congestion pricing, saying it could generate $1 billion or more a year. The revenue would support at least $15 billion in bonded financing over the next decade, the group said.
Drivers unhappy at the new toll could take consolation in estimates that traffic would move 20 percent faster than the current average of 7.1 miles per hour (11.4 kph) under the plan, the working group said.
Officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have also discussed congestion pricing, a system that succeeded in reducing air pollution and traffic in London, which currently charges drivers £11.50 ($15.24) per day during weekday business hours.
Transit advocacy groups welcomed the proposal, saying the mayor’s relenting was an important step forward.
“It’s not a silver bullet to fixing the current crisis, but it raises a significant amount of money,” Jaqi Cohen, the campaign coordinator at the New York commuter advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, said in a telephone interview.
Cuomo promised additional new revenue would come from a tax on cannabis as he moves to legalize it in the state.
The governor and the mayor said they expected reduced tolls during off-peak hours, and exemptions for vehicles driven by or transporting people with disabilities, among other categories.
The FDR Drive, the main highway tracing Manhattan’s east side and a primary thoroughfare connecting the island to the city’s outer boroughs, will also not carry a toll.
Taxis and other for-hire vehicles, which have been subject to a congestion surcharge of up to $2.75 for each ride in much of Manhattan since January, would not have to pay the additional congestion toll under Cuomo’s plan. The proposed exemption and others, however, are subject to negotiation with state lawmakers.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Berkrot